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See the world, let special interests pay, governor urges

May 01, 2008|Evan Halper and Nancy Vogel | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday encouraged lawmakers -- especially those from small towns -- to do more globe-trotting on the dime of special interests.

Speaking at a forum on global economics held by the nonprofit Milken Institute, the governor suggested lawmakers would be more willing to embrace his plans to privatize the building of roads, schools, high-speed rail systems and other public works if they could see how effectively it has worked in other countries.

"Some of them come from those little towns, you know what I am saying, they come from those little towns and they don't have that vision yet of an airport or of a highway that maybe has 10 lanes or of putting a highway on top of a highway," Schwarzenegger said. "They look at you and say, 'We don't have that in my town. What are you talking about?'

"So they are kind of shocked when you say certain things. So I like them to travel around."

Such travel is typically paid for by a combination of special interests with business before the Legislature and foreign governments.

It usually involves stays at luxury resorts, high-end dining and the option of bringing a spouse along.

Schwarzenegger has jetted around the world on "trade missions" paid for by donors whose identity is not disclosed. Campaign finance reformers are troubled by the ethical issues raised by such trips. Schwarzenegger said he is not.

"I am always against when the media beats up" on lawmakers "for traveling around because someone else is paying for their trips," he said. "I mean, so what. If they were to take the money from the taxpayers," then the media "would complain about using tax dollars to travel around the world and live in luxury and all this stuff.

"I think it is great when they go to Russia and they go to China and they go to Africa and they go to the Middle East and go to Canada. . . . We don't have to redesign the wheel all the time. We can go and copy other people. . . . This is the way I get the best education, by traveling around the world."

While lawmakers were pleased to hear the governor endorse their travel, some were annoyed by the swipe at their small-town origins.

Assemblyman Anthony Adams, a Republican from the mid-size city of Hesperia (population 83,000), said Schwarzenegger's comments, "while I'm sure well-intentioned, reek of a certain elitism that doesn't help foster a cooperative working relationship."

Last month, Adams toured Japan's high-speed rail system on a trip organized by the Senate Office of International Relations.

He said he paid for the week of travel with campaign money and personal funds, and was impressed that Japan's system is efficient and well-managed. "I'm awful grateful I did it," Adams said. "It will help me make the case for why high-speed rail is right for California."

Schwarzenegger's jab at small towns, Adams said, won't help his already chilly relations with Republicans in the Legislature, many of whom hail from rural parts of the state.

"Regardless, we have a responsibility to put aside petty considerations," Adams said, "because the people's work is more important than that."

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evan.halper@latimes.com

nancy.vogel@latimes.com

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